One of the greatest actors of our generation takes on his most important and challenging roles yet (Other than HurlyBurly of course...)
I am yet to watch "The Wrestler" yet but Rourke's performance is going to have to be pretty weighty in order to top the sensational effort put forward by Sean Penn. Harvey Milk was another brave soul who was chosen to lead a fight against homophobia, civil rights violations and just general stupidity.
Towards the beginning of Milk's journey into politics he is sent a death threat which his lover is startled by and keen to put out of sight, Milk refuses to do so. Instead, he pins it to the refrigerator where it loses it's power to shock, scare and repulse. It's fitting that hate exposed by ignorance loses credibility from mass exposure, where as love, compassion, tolerance and acceptance of others is contagious and unstoppable when spread amongst people who exercise their rights to the most basic of freedoms.
Most of us live our lives in a comfortable, small world of love and hate which remains moderately safe for us. The great men that fight their causes are thrown into an amplified arena of love and hate that forces them to make great sacrifices, but yet, also leads them to make great changes for the benefit of society as a whole.
It's astounding to look back at times when voices of such ignorance and stupidity were elected to speak on behalf of the masses (Not so long ago I hear you say?). Milk was an inevitability of his time in America, a time when fear, a lack of understanding and acceptance were manifested in it's politics. America has always had a tendency to cry outrage about the threat to "Family values" and a "Christian way of life". These non-sensical phrases are brainwashing McTerms that have managed to influence a nation of people always on the look out for a scapegoat.
Milk visits the Opera towards the end of the film and he knows his time is coming to an end as the fat lady does indeed begin to warm up her voice. His demise is shown to be rather theatrical, remaining consistent with his life's work, seeing the beauty of the world around him, even in the final moments of his death. Like Malcom, Martin, Tupac and other figures who predicted their own death correctly, Harvey Milk was aware that his life was a sacrifice made for the greater good. As he said, It's not about ego or personal gain, it's a movement for the preservation of the youth, to guarantee that they don't have to feel persecuted for simply being whatever they happen to be.
The film's best moments derive from observing Milk embarrass his political opponents with what seem to be very obvious facts about the nature of Homosexuality. I hope he would forgive me for saying the stupidity of his opponents beliefs and arguments seemed to personify his own ability to deliver fantastic one liners with such sharp wit. There should have been a bit more of this shown as it really does celebrate the essence of who he was, like watching an artist at work. You could see the pleasure he got from changing people's minds and influencing people to question certain prejudices. It would be fair to say that he was armed with such truth and support that charisma wasn't necessary to clinch his political victories, all he had to do is show up and allow his good natured intentions to shine through. The camera work does a nice job of capturing the era of a restless crowd rallying in the streets of San Fransisco.
I've found it extremely rewarding to read many reviews of this film. Mainly because there has been countless mentions from people that cannot usually stand the sight of Sean Penn who have been pleasantly surprised by his amazing ability to capture the essence of this historically brave man. I consider Sean Penn to be one of, if not the greatest actor of his generation so his performance is no surprise to me at all. Perhaps it is fitting then that two men who seem so desperately misunderstood (obviously to very different degrees of importance), merge into one character on the big screen to deliver such an important message to the world.
Dan White - Two guys can't reproduce
Harvey Milk - But we keep on trying!